New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Harness racing

Carmine Abbatiello

Carmine Abbatiello (Harness racing.  Born, Staten Island, NY, May 23, 1936.)  Harness racing’s second winningest all-time driver, Carmine Abbatiello won his 7,000th race on October 23, 1990, at Yonkers Raceway with a horse appropriately named “Right on Course.”  Abbatiello, a graduate of Staten Island’s Port Richmond High, went directly from high school into harness racing as an apprentice to older brother Anthony.  Eight years later, in 1964, Carmine opened his own stable.  In his first year out, Abbatiello won 104 races and purses worth $211,998.  As a native New Yorker, Abbatiello became one of the most popular of all sulky stars on the New York circuit and became the first City native to win a driving championship on local tracks.  He was the driving champion for six straight years (1978-83) at Yonkers Raceway, where, appropriately, he won his 7,000th race.  Abbatiello won driving titles at all of the New York area tracks, including the Meadowlands, Freehold, Monticello, the old Roosevelt Raceway and Yonkers.  His lifetime earnings exceed $50 million.  Although he has obviously been aboard the sulky behind some outstanding horses over his career, Abbatiello’s consistency is what earned him his reputation. In the 17-year stretch from 1968-84, the Harness Hall of Famer won 200 or more races 15 times including 393 in 1979 and 391 in 1980.  His annual winnings surpassed $3 million five times.

August Belmont

August Belmont (Horse racing.  Born, Alzey, Prussia, Dec. 8, 1813; died, New York, NY, Nov. 24, 1890.)  From its opening in 1837, the private bank of August Belmont was a mainstay of the New York financial community.  Belmont also became the most important arbiter of manners and style in the City’s emerging social class.  But the statement by some biographers that he introduced thoroughbred racing to the U.S. is false.  Belmont helped revive interest in the sport and served as first president of the American Jockey Club, which built Jerome Park (in what is now The Bronx) in 1867.  He had no previous racing experience and was persuaded to take the post by another influential social figure, Leonard Jerome (later Sir Winston Churchill’s maternal grandfather), who was the major backer of the project.  Once involved, however, Belmont became a principal figure in New York racing, opening the original Nursery Stud on Long Island and helping found New Jersey’s Monmouth Park (1870).  After 1882, Belmont no longer raced his horses, but did remain active in the administrative side of the sport.  There is little doubt that his involvement added to the social cache of racing, but his biggest contribution was probably his son August II, who rescued the sport in New York by building Belmont Park (which he named for his father) in 1905.

John Campbell

John Campbell (Harness racing.  Born, Ailsa Craig, Ont., Apr. 8, 1955.)  Coming originally to The Meadowlands as a trainer-driver with a small stable, John D. Campbell emerged as one of the most successful drivers in the history of harness racing.  Campbell holds the sport’s record for purse earnings with just under $220 million, more than half of that earned at The Meadowlands, the highest-profile venue in harness racing.  There, he was dominant, with 16 driving titles from 1979-2001.  Campbell excels in million-dollar races, with a record 20 victories, including five in the famed Hambletonian for three-year-old trotters (1987 with Mack Lobell, 1988 with Armbro Goal, 1990 with Harmonious, 1995 with Tagliabue, and 1998 with Muscles Yankee).

Bill Cane

Bill Cane (Harness racing.  Born, Jersey City, NJ, Aug. 5, 1874; died, Miami Beach, FL, Mar. 27, 1956.)  Following his father into the building trade, William Henry Cane also developed a passion for buying and driving trotting horses.  His avocation eventually became the main focus of Cane’s life.  His Good Time Stable in the Orange County town of Goshen, N.Y., became one of harness racing’s top winners on the Grand Circuit, helped by the training and driving of Walter Cox.  Cane won the Hambletonian with Walter Dear in 1929, starting a long association with the three-year-old trotting classic.  Cane, the premier trotting promoter of his time, defied skeptics by luring the Hambletonian to his Good Time Park in Goshen in 1930.  He turned the heat race into a national media event that drew large crowds to the tiny town an hour north of New York City.  After 27 years, the Hambletonian’s Goshen era ended after Cane’s death when the event was shifted to DuQuoin, Ill., in 1957.  Cane also headed the group that purchased the old Empire City thoroughbred track in Westchester and converted it to Yonkers Raceway in 1950.  The Cane Pace, part of the pacing Triple Crown, honors the memory of this influential figure in the sport’s history. – M.F.

John Chapman

John Chapman (Harness racing.  Born, Toronto, Ont., Nov. 25, 1928; died, Westbury, LI, May 2, 1980.)  In a career that began in 1947, John Chapman became one of the most popular of the catch drivers during the “golden age” of trotting at Yonkers and Roosevelt Raceways.  Chapman drove 3,915 winners and his horses earned $21,359,746.  He had his best year in 1969, with 197 winners and $1,063,138 in earnings.  Chapman drove his biggest individual race victory Aug. 25, 1973, when he steered Delmonica Hanover home by a nose in the $150,000 International Trot at Roosevelt.

Stanley Dancer

Stanley Dancer (Harness racing.  Born, Edinburg, NJ, July 25, 1927; died, Pompano Beach, FL, Sept. 8, 2005.)  During his lifetime, Stanley Dancer was described as “harness racing’s living legend,” and there was much merit behind the title.  In a career that started in 1945, Dancer won more than 3,700 times and became one of the sport’s most distinguished trainers and breeders.  From his driving debut at Freehold (N.J.), Dancer advanced to Roosevelt Raceway, when, on June 11, 1947, he won in the second race of the evening on his first drive.  Dancer was the leading money-winning driver in 1961, 1962, 1964, and 1966 and was chosen the H.T.A. Driver of the Year in 1968.  His winning horses captured purses worth over $27 million.  Among his major achievements were the winning of four Hambletonians on the likes of such famous horses as Nevele Pride, a Triple Crown winner and three-time Horse of the Year; and Triple Crown winners Most Happy Fella and Super Bowl.  He also drove such fabled horses as Albatross, Cardigan Bay, Su Mac Lad and Henry T. Adios.

Herve Filion

Herve Filion (Harness racing.  Born, Angers, P.Q., Feb. 1, 1940.)  Herve Filion’s story began in the farm country of Quebec, where his father began racing harness horses as a hobby when Herve was nine. Herve entered his first race when he was 12 (finishing second) and at age 13 won his first race at Riguard, Quebec.  By 1961, Filion was racing in the U.S.  After several years of success on the Philadelphia-Delaware Valley circuit, he came to New York in 1970.  Over the next 20 years, he established himself as one of the all-time greats.  Filion won the Harness Tracks of America “Driver of the Year” Award 10 times in the first 22 years it was presented.  No driver ever won the award more than three times during that period.  He was also one of the busiest drivers in the sport, frequently driving both afternoon and evening cards when possible.  Filion often hopped from Freehold’s daytime card to Yonkers, The Meadowlands or Roosevelt for night meetings.  In 1971, he drove 3,001 races and won 637.  In 1988, he had 4,356 drives and 798 wins.  In 1989, he won 814 times.  Filion was the nation’s leading driver 16 times, and has more than 14,000 wins.  He cracked the $5 million mark in winnings in 1988 and 1989 and his career winnings total more than $70 million.  Filion was suspended for over five years when he was implicated in a race-fixing scandal at Yonkers Raceway in 1995, but eventually pleaded guilty only to failing to report New York state income tax.  Though denied reinstatement in New York and New Jersey, Filion was reinstated in other states and resumed driving on a limited basis in 2002.

Buddy Gilmour

Buddy Gilmour (Harness racing.  Born, Lucan, Ontario, July 23, 1932; died, Fort Erie, Ontario, May 23, 2011.)  In 1986, William D. (Buddy) Gilmour won two of the four million-dollar events in harness racing in a span of eight days, sweeping the Woodrow Wilson Pace with Cullen Hanover after winning the Meadowlands Pace with Laughs.  But winning the big event was nothing new for Buddy Gilmour even though the feat attracted the attention of many people who did not usually follow his sport. Gilmour, whose driving carrer began in 1952, drove 5,381 winners worth more than $44 million.  During over 40 years in the sulky, Gilmour made 11,402 starts and won most of the major races in harness racing including the Bronx Filly Pace, the Dexter Cup, the George Morton Levy Final and Molly Pitcher.  In 1959, his 165 winners ranked No. 1 in the sport during a stretch of 12 straight years when he was in the top 10 drivers each year.  Gilmour’s personal best totals were 320 in 1973 and 305 in 1971 and his 265 in 1981.  He has driven such fine horses as On The Road Again, Matt’s Scooter, Follow My Star, Napoletano and Dignatarian into the winner’s circle in major races.  Gilmour, one of four driving brothers, broke into racing in his native Ontario.  Before moving out on his own in the early 1950s, he worked for legendary Canadian horseman Clint Hodgins. That it was a wise choice is attested by his career victory total and his earnings figures.

Billy Haughton

Billy Haughton (Harness racing.  Born, Gloversville, NY, Nov. 2, 1923; died, Valhalla, NY, July 15, 1986.)  William D. Haughton was, for over 30 years, a leading figure in harness racing, and his unfortunate death was the result of a driving accident at Yonkers Raceway.  During his career, Haughton was the winning driver in 4,910 races worth some $40,200,000 in purses.  Both totals were the fourth-best all-time at the end of his career.  Haughton won four Hambletonians, five Little Brown Jugs and seven Messenger Stakes, giving him 16 victories in the three premier races.  Among the famed horses he handled were Green Speed, Handle with Care, Keystone Pioneer, Rum Customer, Trenton Times and Burgomeister.  On July 5, 1986, Haughton was driving a pacer at Yonkers when he became involved in an accident, sustaining serious head injuries.  He died ten days later.  Haughton had been the leading money-winning driver in the nation for 12 years from 1953-68, including seven straight years from 1953-59.

Del Insko

Del Insko (Harness racing.  Born, Amboy, MN, July 10, 1931.)  Del Insko was the dominant harness driver in the New York area in the 1960s and early 1970s, when Yonkers and Roosevelt Raceways were the dominant tracks in the sport.  Delmer M. Insko shifted to the New York circuit in 1962.  For a dozen years before that, he had been a major driver in the Chicago area.  But much of what Insko achieved was accomplished during his great years in New York, including the night in 1966 when he steered Speedy Rodney through a 1:58.3 mile at Yonkers to set a track record that stood for 18 years.  In 1975, Insko achieved an unparalled feat when he swept through Roosevelt’s International Trotting Series, winning all three races with Savoir.  No other driver had ever accomplished this triple.  Five years later, he turned in what he later called his biggest thrill in racing, his win in the $2 million Woodrow Wilson Pace at the Meadowlands with Land Grant.  Insko started driving in 1950 in the Chicago area and by 1960 became the youngest driver ever to win a North American Dash-winning championship.  From 1960-69, Insko placed first or second in victories six times.  He was an extremely active driver during his New York years, making 1,370 starts in 1965 and more than 1,400 in 11 of the next 12 years.  He started 1,707 times in 1971 with 234 wins. In 1969, Insko had a career-best 306 wins (second in the country) and had 200 or more victories nine straight years through 1973.

About This Dictionary

The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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